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Posters produced for a recent street protest in Melbourne, Australia

Thai Navy Asked to Explain Complaint

Tuesday, March 25, 2014
PHUKET: The Royal Thai Navy will be asked to supply more evidence and a justification for its criminal libel action against Reuters international news agency, the policeman investigating the case said today.

Colonel Somkid Onjan, Deputy Superintendent of Phuket's Vichit Police Station, met with the Phuket Prosecutor this morning and was told to seek answers from the Navy.

''Essentially the question the Prosecutor had for the Navy was: 'Why are you a victim?''' the colonel said.

The developing case against Reuters and the two authors of a special report on Rohingya boatpeople concerns the same paragraph as a case already underway against Phuketwan's parent company, Big Island Media, and journalists Alan Morison and Chutima Sidasathian.

Accused of breaches under Thailand's criminal defamation and Computer Crimes Act, Morison and Khun Chutima face up to seven years' jail and a fine of 100,000 baht.

Human rights and media rights groups have said the Royal Thai Navy is behaving in bullying fashion to intimidate and silence the media over coverage of human trafficking and the Rohingya.

Phuketwan has been praised for its work reporting the exodus from Burma through Thailand of thousands of the persecuted boatpeople. Reuters' reports have often expanded upon Phuketwan's coverage by taking a broader regional approach.

Reuters published online a special report on July 17 last year and Phuketwan carried excerpts from the Reuters report.

The same day, Captain Panlob Komtonlok of Royal Thai Navy 3, which oversees the Andaman Sea coast, complained to Vichit police about a paragraph that he said brought the Royal Thai Navy into disrepute.

The action was endorsed by the Assistant Commander in Chief of the Royal Thai Navy, Admiral Polawat Sirodom, on October 4.

It's a highly unusual prosecution because when accusations are made in the media about Thailand's military or police, the normal response of officers is to speedily hold a news conference to explain their side.

To have the Navy suing the media is regarded by many as an abuse of freedom of speech and an indication that Thailand's democracy remains immature.

While the case against Reuters and the authors of the contentious paragraph has yet to go ahead, the case against Phuketwan is proceeding.

The Phuket journalists are required to reappear at the Phuket Prosecutor's office on April 17 to learn whether the matter will go to court.

If the case reaches court, Morison has said he is prepared to go to jail rather than pay bail in protest at what he says is a trumped up charge that threatens media freedom in Thailand.

Both criminal defamation and the Computer Crimes Act are considered by rights advocates to be bad laws.

The action so far has served to unite the issue of media freedom with the Royal Thai Navy's prolonged silence about the treatment of Rohingya boatpeople on land and in Thai waters.

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